What does all of this mean in the context of higher
education and particularly student affairs?
Many student affairs preparation programs offer
opportunities through course work and assistantships to
develop the knowledge and skills for competence in the social
justice area. The challenge is that when individuals leave that
environment, unless they continue to challenge themselves,
they will slip back into unconscious behaviors that do not
serve the goals of social justice.
Certain elements form the foundation of any socially just
campus community. Consider how your campus would
benefit from adhering to the following tenets of diverse
Build relationships of commitment and trust. In every
long-term relationship, there are many moments when you are
ready to quit. As with any type of relationship, when it comes
to building communities across difference, you must be
willing to stay when it does not feel comfortable. Do not give
up on each other because the “ism” clouds judgment and
hearing. Be willing to move through the tough conversations
and build deeper levels of trust and honesty that make for
more authentic relationships.
Recognize you can understand even if you are not a
member of the group. While you may not share particular
identities or struggles, it does not mean you cannot empathize
or have the genuine desire to be an ally.
Understand oppression is pervasive and impacts
everyone. “Does everyone agree that some groups get treated
with dignity and respect, get heard, get valued, and get access
to resources, and other groups do not?” In posing that question in presentations, the answer is yes 100 percent of the
time from 100 percent of the audience. Given the response to
this simple question, it is clear that we all know the pervasiveness of oppression. The challenge is to take ownership of the
places where we gain privilege and the places where we have
internalized oppression as we make conscious decisions to
Accept responsibility. No one individual created oppression. It is not our fault that we were born into, adopted into,
or even chose, in some cases, the groups that are more privileged in this society. However, we must accept responsibility
for who we are, where we are, and what we do everyday to
maintain the status quo and for what we can do to move
toward liberty and justice for all.
Admit you do not know all
there is to know. One of our
biggest challenges is helping
people understand that it is
acceptable to admit that we do not
know everything about diversity.
We live in a climate of “political
correctness” in which we are afraid to express honesty about
what we feel or think. Just because we have a Black or Latino
friend, have been to a religious experience different than our
own, or have viewed “Brokeback Mountain” several times, we
do not fully understand diversity. Without this acknowledgement, we cannot learn. To build community, we must be
honest with ourselves.
To build community, we must
be honest with ourselves.
Do the best that you can. Most people get up in the
morning and try to do their best throughout the day. Even so,
we can always do better. Few people intentionally express, “I’ll
demonstrate racism or sexism today.” To motivate others to do
better, we must meet them with energy that reflects we truly
believe they are doing the best they can.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
This foundation comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press, 1989). It is also
very important in the context of diversity. Often we are
engaged in conversation where we are so busy trying to be
heard, that we are not hearing or listening. If we are to build
communities across difference someone must be willing to
slow down the process, seek to understand, and be understood. In this process, we often find common ground.
Acknowledge that inclusion in a group does not mean
you understand the group. One of the most common questions posed to under-represented individuals about a
particular situation is, “What do your people think, want, or
feel?” The assumption is that because you are a member of a
certain group, you can speak for the entire group. You may be
able to share a personal perspective as a member of a group,
but it does not mean you know everything about that population or the experiences of all members of that community.
Make conflict and discomfort a part of growth. Most
individuals seek engaged, supportive, diverse communities,
but want to remain in their comfort zones. There is no way to
build community across difference without engaging in
conflict and discomfort. When people successfully move
through conflict and discomfort, relationships are strengthened and community develops.
Self-work and healing are necessary to accept others.
Much of the negative energy that is expressed about difference
is from people living in pain. The pain may have been caused
by a particular group or person during childhood, but individuals have never been able to move beyond the pain. These